NBA Playoff Action: Who, What and Why

Let’s start with the “why” – Why should you be excited about the NBA Playoffs? Tall athletes wearing shorts and tanks – why wouldn’t you be excited?

Plus, NBA basketball is fast-paced and high-scoring. There’s always something going on, whether it’s a basket, a free shot or a foul. Every now and again one of those towering dudes either goes flying through the air to dunk the ball or crashing to the ground because he’s been fouled.

Come playoff time, they start flying up and crashing down with more frequency. Exciting stuff!

So, let’s see how the playoffs work in the NBA and who the teams to watch for are.

How NBA Playoffs Work


Remember everything you learned about the NCAA March Madness Tournaments? Sorry – that’s not going to help you much here. Did you brush up on your NHL Playoff tutorial? Slightly more useful, but the NBA Playoffs are their own unique animal.

So, the NBA consists of an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference which corresponds roughly with geography. (I’ll get to that in a moment.) Each conference is divided into three divisions.

Eastern Conference:

  • Atlantic
  • Central
  • Southeast

Western Conference:

  • Northwest
  • Pacific
  • Southwest

These divisions play a little loose with geography. For instance, Denver is in the Northwest, not Southwest. Maybe that’s because New Orleans is taking up a spot in the Southwest instead of the Southeast. But then, Washington D.C. is in the Southeast, so… I guess it’s tough dividing two conferences into three divisions made up of five teams each – sounds like those word problems in grade school only one kid could do. (Guess we know where he works now!)

Anyway, each team plays 82 games, four against each of its divisional rivals. They play six of their conference rivals four times, four of their conference rivals three times and teams from the other conference twice. (That math kid’s been busy!)

Anyway, the whole point of the regular season is to amass a record that allows a team to enter the playoffs, which begin mid-April and run about two months.

The top eight teams from each conference get to go to the playoffs, with a provision in the rules that the leader in each division definitely gets in. (I don’t know if it’s mathematically possible to win the division and not be a top-eight team, but there you have it.)

From there, it’s actually pretty simple. The best team plays the number-eight team in the conference. Number two plays number seven, number three plays number six and number five plays… any guesses? Number six. The top four teams have home-court advantage.

Teams play best-of-seven series. The first two games are played on the better team’s court, the next team on the underdog’s court, then they bounce back and forth between courts until someone wins or gets air sick. (That’s a rare provision… ok, I made it up.)

They play four rounds, with the final round being between the longest-lasting East team and the longest-lasting West team. The winner of the NBA Championships earns the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy which is made anew every year. (Unlike the Stanley Cup, which gets passed around from year to year.)

So, you’ve got “what” and “why” down – let’s see who’s playing this year.

Who to Watch For


Eastern Conference:

  • Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks: Look for the Pacers’ chemistry – they’re a gelled-together team. By contrast the Hawks look like junior high kids at a dance – extraordinarily tall junior high kids, but awkward just the same.
  • Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats: This series might be a sweep. The Heat are looking to singe the Bobcats like they did all season. Meow.
  • Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets: Ooh, big-city rivalry. The Raptors feel disrespected by the Nets. The Nets are from Brooklyn – of course they’re disrespectful. Annoyed, too, because they’re from Brooklyn. Watch for flying elbows.
  • Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards: Never vote against the Bulls – have you seen their logo? It’s vaguely, well, evil. Plus, the Bulls play tough and will out-grind any opponent.

Western Conference:

  • San Antonio Spurs vs. Dallas Mavericks: Yee-haw! Texas match-up! Look for big boots and even bigger hair! Oh, on-court, the Spurs are going to own the Mavericks. They average scoring over 100 points in each game. The Mavericks are 22nd out of 30 teams on defense. Look for blowouts that have nothing to do with that big hair!
  • Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies: Don’t look for a ton of excitement here. The Grizzlies are stingy and the Thunder are really good. These will probably be low-scoring games by basketball standards.
  • Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors: The Warriors are at a disadvantage because their best player is out with a broken rib. (True story.) The Clippers are probably going to take this series pretty easily.
  • Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers: Look for some foul basketball – not like fish that’s gone off, but the kind that yields free throws. Players really like to throw elbows at Rockets guard James Harden, and he just likes to laugh it off while he takes the resulting free throws. Portland has a bizarro defense that keeps opponents off-kilter, though so… Look for some crazy action.

Alrights, sports fans – let’s watch some hoop!

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